Year of Publication
Martin School of Public Policy and Administration
Dr. Eugenia Toma
Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate with fewer limitations on hiring and firing staff, and that have more flexibility with curriculum than traditional public schools. The goal of charter schools is to improve education and that goal often is measured through test scores in math and reading. This paper is a case study of one charter school, Merit Preparatory Academy, located in Newark, New Jersey, over two academic years. The school operated as a free-standing charter in the first year and was managed by a charter management organization in the second.
Schools are often evaluated by comparing the charter to a control group of traditional public schools or private schools, and schools can be compared to themselves over time, with an observation of longitudinal student level data. The first option requires a data set containing a number of schools, and the second requires regularly measured tests. Neither option of comparison was available for this analysis. Although it would be better to have a control group and a panel over time, this research is restricted to an analysis of student exits in 2014-2015 and to math and reading scores in each of two years, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
The research shows that the only factor associated with students exiting Merit Preparatory Academy is low reading scores. Neither demographics, nor math is associated with retention. The lack of association between demographics and retention implies that there is no confirmation the school is either more or less effective for different demographic populations of students. The point that math is not associated with retention is fairly consistent with research that parents value reading performance as a motivator for keeping their child in the school. Whether or not that is generalizable to all schools, the result in this paper is that math scores do not predict retention of students in Merit Preparatory Academy.
The test scores acquired for two years are lower for the following groups: special education students, higher for sixth graders than for seventh graders in 2013, and lower for students with limited English proficiency.
This paper concludes with suggestions for improved data collection by charter schools, additional information that would be helpful for both charter schools and management organizations, and comparisons that would better inform the operation of Merit Preparatory School and Matchbook Learning.
McKenzie, Alyssa, "Student Characteristics and Retention in Merit Preparatory School: An Analysis of Retention in a New Jersey Charter School" (2015). MPA/MPP/MPFM Capstone Projects. 235.